SR’s Fab Five appears regularly on PewterReport.com This story is intended to be read by Pewter Insider subscribers only. Sharing of the PI content with non-subscribers of this service can result in cancellation of your subscription to the service and/or further actions by the publishers.
It’s nice to be back from vacation. Based on the record amount of subscriptions that we’ve had pouring in this month, I’d say that not only is Bucs Fever pretty high as training camp draws near, but I take it that many Bucs fans appreciate Pewter Report’s decision to lower its prices with the change of ownership. If you had a chance to read new Pewter Report president Hugh MacArthur’s letter on PewterReport.com and his column in the Training Camp Issue, you know about his exciting vision for Pewter Report and where we plan on taking the publication and the PewterReport.com Web site.
Be sure to tell your friends and co-workers about Pewter Report. The more subscribers we get, the more pages we can add to each issue and the more improvements we can make to PewterReport.com. Speaking of PewterReport.com, we just got an early sneak peek at our new site, which is coming in early September, this week. In one word – wow! PewterReport.com will be taking a quantum leap forward in just a couple of months. Stay tuned.
Had a chance to take my wife, Elisa, and my kids, Ellie and Logan to the Outer Banks of North Carolina with my dad, stepmother, stepbrother and his family. I highly recommend the quaint towns of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina for any of you who are looking for a great beach getaway. The fishing is legendary, and there is plenty of sightseeing to do. If you are a history buff, like I am, the Outer Banks is the “graveyard of the Atlantic” with tons of shipwrecks just off the coast.
It’s also home to the famous Chicamacomico life-saving station in Rodanthe, the entertaining and educational Lost Colony historical play in Nags Head, and the Wright Brothers Memorial and museum in Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills, where Orville and Wilbur Wright were the first to fly an airplane. The Outer Banks also has three lighthouses, including America’s tallest – the Cape Hatteras lighthouse – to explore. Hopefully, we’ll have the time to go back there again next year. I used to go every year in my childhood and had a blast.
However, Jon Gruden was really hyping up America’s “big sky country” to me at the mandatory mini-camp. Gruden was telling me how much he enjoyed his July trip to Montana last year and how he was going up to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in early July (which explains why he missed the incredible Journey-Def Leppard concert at the Ford Ampitheater in Tampa last Tuesday). So I might have to look into taking a trip to “big sky country” out West next summer, too. Gruden says that the sun doesn’t set up there until 10:00 p.m. Sounds amazing.
What’s amazing is that training camp is only two weeks away. Thanks to all of you for subscribing or renewing your subscription to Pewter Report and the Pewter Insider while I was on vacation – and keep ’em coming! We have some great training camp coverage in store for you in the very near future.
Here are five things that caught my interest this week:
FAB 1. Aside from a recent headline in the New York Times pertaining to his academics at Auburn, it’s been a rather quiet offseason for Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Cadillac Williams. Last year’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year is coming off a record-setting 1,178-yard season, and hopes to build on his success from the 2005 season. But he’s gone about it in a very quiet way.
In the few practices that Pewter Report and the local media has observed, Williams hasn’t really stood out or flashed. It’s almost as if the Bucs are much more interested in getting a look at Earnest Graham, Derek Watson and Andre Hall as the battle for the team’s third running back behind Williams and Michael Pittman will be one of this year’s most interesting training camp battles.
Or are the Bucs simply planning on giving him more than 290 carries this year and need to keep him fresh because they know what they have in the former Auburn star? Either way, Williams hasn’t flashed much in front of the media, but reports from Pewter Report’s insiders say that Caddy is set to avoid the sophomore slump that plagued star wide receiver Michael Clayton last year.
“Carnell has a lot of people tugging at him,” said Bucs assistant head coach and running backs coach Art Valero. “People want to see him and he’s flying all around to Nike and doing all that stuff with golf tournaments – he’s a terrible golfer, but he’s probably played in 30 golf tournaments. But when he is in town, he has maintained his workout regiments and his work ethic is still up to speed. I think he’s going to have a great year for us again this year.”
The one thing Williams wants to do this season is become an every down back, which he was not last year. If third down became an obvious passing down for the Bucs, Williams trotted off the field and was replaced by Michael Pittman, who is the best receiver and pass catcher among the running backs. Beating out Pittman for that role will be a tall order, but it is one that Williams is shooting for.
“He doesn’t want to come off the field,” Valero said. “All football players don’t want to come off the field. Michael Pittman doesn’t want to come off the field, either. These guys want to play every down. Whether they are catching the ball, blocking or carrying the football, they just want to play. That’s kind of been Carnell’s focus this year.”
But in order for Williams to become the every down back that Edgerrin James is, he’ll have to work at catching the ball more consistently and becoming a better pass protector. Once he can do that, Pittman’s role will likely be reduced on third down.
“You’re just not going to see a young running back come in and light the world on fire as a receiver and as a pass-route runner and as a protector on blitzes,” Valero said. “To be honest with you, in college, you don’t have to do those things. The more experience players have doing those things the better they will become at them and they realize how important that stuff is.”
Aside from an early-season foot injury, Williams’ inability to consistently catch the ball and pass protect is what kept head coach and playcaller Jon Gruden from using his “Rocket” backfield package, which is having both Williams and Pittman in a two-halfback set.
“Last year, the Rocket was kind of in its infancy,” Valero said. “Gru has great plans for those two guys. We thought we were going to have that a couple of years ago with Charlie Garner and Michael Pittman, but with Pitt having to miss the first two games and then Charlie getting hurt and out for the season, it never materialized. Last year, with Carnell being such a young player, we realized it was still in its infancy stages. The more those two guys can work together, the better. Hopefully the Rocket backfield can take on a life of its own and we can really take off and let it flourish. That’s what we want to have happen.”
Williams proved himself as a runner last year by turning in a 1,000-yard rushing season. If he can increase his production in the passing game and build on his 20 catches for 81 yards, and become a better pass protector, he’ll be on the field more on third downs.
“As running backs, we want to be physical pass protectors, we don’t want to be guys who just cut people,” Valero said. “We don’t want to be liabilities in pass protection. We are an extension and an arm of the offensive line. We really pride ourselves in that.”
Oddly enough, if Williams makes strides in the passing game, it may take snaps away from Pittman on third downs this year. Yet if Gruden feels that comfortable with Williams’ ability in the passing game, he may decide to implement much more of the “Rocket” backfield than he did last year and that could mean that Pittman will see the field on first and second downs – next to Williams in the same backfield.
FAB 2. Speaking of running backs, perhaps no position is as deep and as vital to the Buccaneers’ success as this unit. Led by Pro Bowl-caliber halfback Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, rusher-receiver Michael Pittman and former Pro Bowl fullback and short-yardage specialist Mike Alstott, Tampa Bay’s ground game is a thing to behold.
Behind the team’s stellar starters lies a capable group of reserve backs, including halfbacks Earnest Graham, Derek Watson and Andre Hall and newly acquired fullback Jerald Sowell among others.
Not only did Williams’ emergence in 2005 make Tampa Bay’s ground attack something to be reckoned with league-wide, but the contributions of several of the Bucs’ other backs helped this group become a source of pride for the whole team.
“Last year for the first time, we achieved one of our goals as a running backs group, which was to be the most productive on our football team,” said Bucs running backs coach Art Valero. “Being productive in not only our offensive numbers, but also being productive in terms of how we were going to contribute on special teams for Rich Bisaccia. We had Jameel Cook, who was the number-two tackler on special teams, and we had the number-three tackler in Earnest Graham.”
Cook’s 23 special teams tackles, which were second only to Kalvin Pearson’s 25 stops, will be difficult to replace, but Valero is hopeful that Graham, Sowell, who was a special teams demon for the New York Jets, and others can pick up the slack.
But covering kicks wasn’t the only mark the Bucs running backs made in 2005. Thanks to the efforts of Graham and especially Michael Pittman, whose 28.3-yard kick return average led the Bucs, Tampa Bay’s running backs also made an impact returning kicks.
“We had Michael Pittman returning kickoffs at the end of the year, which was great,” Valero said. “For the first time since I’ve been here, we’ve gotten an awful lot of production on special teams from our room. I had always thought being a football coach that receivers and defensive backs had some skills on special teams, but who is better at being a return man and running through traffic than a running back? I think it really showed in the way that Michael really came on late in the season as a kick returner.”
With a fierce battle about to be waged in training camp between Graham, Derek Watson and rookie Andre Hall for essentially two roster spots, it may not be offensive production that is ultimately the deciding factor. It will likely come down to special teams and the ability to make tackles or return kicks alongside Pittman.
“I’m hoping that guys like Derek Watson and Andre Hall can also be in the mix in our return game, as well as Earnest Graham,” Valero said. “We know he probably won’t have the opportunity, but Carnell is certainly capable of doing those things, too.”
Tampa Bay’s special teams, which was once dominated by the performance of defensive backs, linebackers and tight ends, is now feeling a strong contribution from its running backs and fullbacks. Valero expects this to become a trend with another strong showing on offense and special teams from his players in 2006.
FAB 3. Here’s a name to remember in training camp – Tampa Bay defensive lineman Jon Bradley. With the Buccaneers defensive line relatively unchanged heading into 2006, with the exception of rookie additions Julian Jenkins and Charles Bennett, Bradley could make some noise heading into his third year with the team. While third-year player Dewayne White was labled the “sleeper” at the defensive line position in Pewter Report’s Training Camp Issue, Bradley also merited strong consideration, and here’s why.
Bradley joined the Bucs’ practice squad on October 20, 2004, and was called up to the active roster on November 6, 2004 and played in six games when Tampa Bay’s defensive tackle position was ravaged with injuries to Anthony McFarland, Ellis Wyms and Damien Gregory. During that span, he notched five tackles and one sack, which earned him a trip to training camp last summer. After making the team again last year, Bradley saw action in 13 games (mostly on special teams) and registered one tackle as a reserve nose tackle behind Chris Hovan.
With Bradley firmly grasping Monte Kiffin’s playbook heading into his third year with the Bucs, he is ready to once again solidify his roster spot in 2006 and make a push for more playing time. That will be hard to do, especially given the talent of the starting defensive linemen, but Bradley was seen playing some defensive end at the team’s mandatory mini-camp, in addition to nose tackle. The interesting thing to me was that a man of Bradley’s size was actually playing second-string defensive end on the right side, which is the premier pass-rushing side – behind Simeon Rice.
The 6-foot, 301-pound Bradley, who starred at Arkansas State playing along the defensive line, was actually a stud running back in high school where he ranks third in the Arkansas prep history books with 6,493 yards and 63 touchdowns. Bradley outgrew the linebacker and running back positions he played at Barton High School and went on to play both defensive end and defensive tackle at Arkansas State, where he recorded 217 tackles, 11 sacks and five forced fumbles in his Indians career.
Bradley’s versatility to play end and tackle will only make him a more attractive option for Kiffin to insert into the defensive line on Sundays, should he once again make the team. The fact that the Bucs did not spend a first-day draft pick on a defensive lineman, which is something Tampa Bay hasn’t done since drafting defensive end Dewayne White with its second-round pick in 2003, bodes well for Bradley.
The 6-foot-3, 277-pound Jenkins, who was Tampa Bay’s fifth-round pick this year, poses the biggest threat to Bradley’s roster spot because he has the versatility to play both end and tackle as well. Jenkins flashed well during the team’s three-day mandatory mini-camp, but he missed almost all of Tampa Bay’s offseason program because Stanford is on a quarters system rather than a semester system and didn’t graduate until late June. In terms of knowledge of the defense, Bradley has the advantage.
Second-year player Anthony Bryant also poses a threat because he is vying for the opportunity to become the backup nose tackle behind Hovan. The team has high expectations because it has a sixth-round pick invested in him from the 2005 draft, but it’s time for Bryant to step up. If Bradley’s ability to play multiple positions and steady play can outshine Bryant in camp, Bradley’s roster spot will be secured once again.
“He’s solid,” Bucs defensive line coach Jethro Franklin said of Bradley. “He continues to do the little things right. He can play different spots, so that makes him attractive.”
While they will be evaluating players during training camp practices, the Bucs put an awful lot of emphasis on preseason game performance. A strong showing against the New York Jets on August 11 and the Miami Dolphins on August 19 could go a long way to determining Bradley’s status with the Buccaneers this year. I’ll be keeping an eye on number 91 in training camp.
FAB 4. One of our Pewter Insider sources was talking to me about Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin this summer and why he has remained in Tampa Bay despite drawing interest for head coaching positions in San Francisco (2003), Nebraska, his alma mater (2005), and St. Louis (2006).
It could be the fact that the Bucs kept Kiffin on as the highest-paid defensive coordinator in 2003 and away from the 49ers with a three-year, $5.1 million deal, or a two-year contract extension last summer that is worth $1.7 million per season and runs through the 2007 season.
Or it could be the fact that Kiffin is already a head coach. You see, that’s how he is viewed at One Buccaneer Place. Kiffin is the head coach of the Bucs defense.
The team? When it’s all together, it’s unquestionably Jon Gruden’s show, but Gruden is such an offensive nut that he loves the fact that he has a person like Kiffin, whom he trusts implicitly, to run the defense without much supervision. That leaves Gruden with even more time to focus on the offensive side of the ball, which has been in a perpetual state of improvement since his arrival in Tampa Bay in 2002.
By essentially having two head coaches, leadership isn’t a question at One Buc Place. And the fact that Gruden and Kiffin have immense respect for each other and feed off each other makes the offense and defense better.
It also keeps Kiffin in Tampa Bay.
Why would he want to go elsewhere? He’s a defensive guru who gets to focus on the side of the ball that interests him the most. He doesn’t have to bother with special teams details or worry about calling the plays on offense. He also doesn’t have to worry about the multitude of public relations and media appearances that would undoubtedly cut into his film study time.
And by making $1.7 million, he’s getting paid better than some of the league’s head coaches are.
Life is great in Tampa Bay for Kiffin, whose defense was once again the league’s top-ranked unit last year. The Bucs wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Keeping Monte Kiffin was the No. 1 priority when I got the job and has remained a priority,” coach Jon Gruden said in 2003 when Kiffin signed a contract extension with the Bucs. “I think a great deal of Monte and it will always be a priority to keep him on my staff as long as I’m in Tampa.”
Teams will continue to be interested in interviewing the 65-year old Kiffin for head coaching positions in the future, and they should. Assistant coaches don’t make the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Kiffin should. But other than Canton, don’t expect him to leave Tampa Bay anytime soon – even in 2008.
FAB 5. Here are a few things to hold you over until next week:
• Did the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have any strong interest in Virginia linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who went in the third round of the 2006 NFL supplemental draft to the Cincinnati Bengals? The obvious answer was no, based on the fact that the Bucs did put forth a first- or second-round draft pick for the talented, but troubled Cavalier. Head coach Jon Gruden and general manager Bruce Allen don’t mind taking a chance on a player with a checkered past or giving a player a second chance at NFL life, but they need it to be of the low-risk variety (i.e. Darrell Russell, Derek Watson and David Boston). The Bucs weren’t about to burn a draft pick on Brooks, who was essentially kicked off the team and booted out of school due to multiple violations. Although his weight was down to 260 from a reported 292 pounds, no Bucs linebacker under Monte Kiffin can or has been that big. Brooks fared well as a freshman and sophomore as an inside linebacker in Al Groh’s 3-4 defense, but he’s too big of a player at even 260 pounds to excel in Tampa Bay. The character issues aside, Brooks would not have been a good fit at linebacker in Tampa Bay regardless.
• Just how long has it been since the Buccaneers won Super Bowl XXXVII? A quick look at the remaining Buccaneers with Super Bowl rings from the 2002 season will tell you. Only running backs Michael Pittman and Mike Alstott, cornerbacks Ronde Barber and Brian Kelly, linebackers Shelton Quarles, Derrick Brooks and Ryan Nece, safety Jermaine Phillips, offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker and defensive linemen Simeon Rice, Greg Spires, Booger McFarland, Ellis Wyms remain with the team. That’s just 13 of the 53 players that were on the Super Bowl XXXVII roster. Of those players, only nine players who actually started in the Super Bowl (Pittman, Alstott, Barber, Kelly, Quarles, Brooks, Walker, Rice and Spires) are left from that team heading into the 2006 campaign.
• The report in the New York Times that former Auburn and current Tampa Bay running back Cadillac Williams took a supposedly easy sociology class in college made waves nationally on Friday, but what’s the big deal? It might be a big deal for Auburn, who could face some NCAA sanctions because of it depending on how the investigation proceeds, but this is rearview mirror stuff for Williams, who is entering his second season in the NFL, and doesn’t affect the Bucs at all. Williams certainly isn’t the first college athlete to allegedly take an easy class or allegedly receive anything that could be perceived as special treatment from a college professor. He also won’t be the last. Before looking down on Williams, realize that this practice is also undoubtedly happening at your college or alma mater. Not all college football players go to school to get an education. They go there to play football. I’m not saying that’s right or endorsing that approach, I’m just saying it happens. Williams didn’t even graduate from Auburn. He’s reportedly six credit hours short and will likely graduate during one of the upcoming offseasons when he takes correspondence classes in the years ahead. Besides, Williams had better things to do during his final semester such as play for Jon Gruden in the Senior Bowl, train for the NFL Scouting Combine at Indianapolis and his pro day, interview with NFL teams, which enabled him to get drafted fifth overall and earn a multi-million dollar contract which is a hell of a lot more money than a sociology degree will ever get him. Remember, the byproduct of going to college is to prepare you for getting a career. It’s a means to an end. Too many do-gooder professors believe that’s all about getting a degree. It’s actually all about preparing for the job that your time at school ultimately gets you. Mission accomplished for Williams – easy class or not. Everyone loves a good scandal, right? I’m just not seeing the high crime in this one. It sounds to me like Williams didn’t do anything wrong except sign up for a supposedly easy class. If that’s the case, it’s Auburn’s problem – not Cadillac’s.
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